Review: Tigerland

Tigerland

Tigerland: 1968-1969: A City Divided, A Nation Torn Apart, and a Magical Season of HealingWil Haygood. New York: Knopf, (Forthcoming September 18), 2018.

Summary: The story of the 1968-69 East High School Tigers championship basketball and baseball teams at a black high school in segregated Columbus, Ohio during the tumultuous aftermath of the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m a Columbus, Ohio transplant, and like many, know little of the city’s history, even sports history, beyond Ohio State football. But I love history, and sports, and so when Wil Haygood’s new book on the legendary East High School Tiger basketball and baseball teams came up for review, I snagged a copy.

Columbus, Ohio in 1968 had a segregated school system. And it was far from equal. Facilities, text books, and sports facilities at black East High School were inferior to other schools. The death of Martin Luther King, Jr. hit the community hard. King had preached regularly at Union Grove Baptist Church. What would happen among the students in the high school that was the centerpiece of that community?

This book tells the story of the leadership of three men at East High School. Jack Gibbs was the black principal of the school, Bob Hart, the white basketball coach, and Paul Pennell, the white baseball coach. All three were marked by a deep concern for their students and players, and their families. Gibbs tirelessly advocated for the school, and even found a way to transport families to the basketball championship against Canton McKinley. Both coaches recognized the raw talent of the black athletes and convinced them they could be champions.

The book also is a narrative of the championship season of each team, divided into Part One for the basketball team, and Part Two for the baseball team. Two of the basketball players, Eddie “the Rat” Ratleff and Bo Pete Lamar were later college All-Americans in the same year and Ratleff played on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. Personal stories of the players mix with game accounts leading up to the state championships for each team (Ratleff played on both). He tells us the story of the subsequent lives of a number of these figures–both good and painful.

Haygood, who has written biographies of Thurgood Marshall, Sammy Davis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and a family memoir on growing up in Columbus, brings his knowledge of the city and the history of race in the U.S. together in this work. He sets the story of the Tigers against backdrop of the racial segregation in the city, including the court ruling by Black judge Robert Duncan, upheld in the Supreme Court desegregating Columbus schools. He narrates a challenged, yet vibrant Black community centered around churches, the schools, and Mt Vernon Avenue businesses. He weaves enough of the national history in–from King to Jackie Robinson to give context.

There is a tendency on the part of some to want to isolate sports from the issues of race in our country. There is also a tendency to focus our discourse on race at a national level and forget that real progress has to find expression in each of our local contexts. Heygood weaves sport and racial history together, as well as the challenges we face as a nation and the possibilities in our local communities. He makes us consider who will be the Jack Gibbs, the Bob Hart, the Paul Pennell of our day.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: Rethinking Incarceration

rethinking incarcerationRethinking IncarcerationDominique Dubois Gilliard. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A call for Christians to address mass incarceration in the United States that considers its pipelines, its history, and proposes alternatives to prison and a focus not merely on punishment but upon restoration.

It is time for Christians to rise up and make a holy interruption to the system of mass incarceration pervading the United State’s criminal justice system. Dominique DuBois Gilliard contends that it is  system that not only dehumanizes the imprisoned, but all of us as a nation. To document the unusual situation that pertains in the U. S., he writes:

While the United States constitutes only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its incarcerated populace. Statistically, our nation currently has more people locked up—in jails, prisons, and detention centers—than any other country in the history of the world. We currently have more jails and prisons than degree-granting colleges and universities. In some areas of the country, there are more people living behind bars than on college campuses.

One out of every twenty-five people sentenced to the death penalty are falsely convicted. In many states, pregnant women are shackled to gurneys during their delivery. Thirteen states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults, such that children as young as eight have been tried and sentenced as adults, left vulnerable to trauma and abuse while living among adults in jails and prisons.

Eighty thousand inmates per day are locked in solitary confinement, where they are quarantined in a twelve by seven foot concrete cell (smaller than a standard horse stall), frequently for twenty-three hours a day, and are only allowed outdoor access and human interaction for one hour. This dehumanizing form of “incarceration” is more accurately defined as torture—a slow assault on the dignity of individuals and a strategic disintegration of their body and psyche.

Gilliard retraces the history of how we have gotten here, ground that has been covered in part by Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (review), showing how the War on Drugs, and other law and order initiatives have been disproportionately applied in minority communities, and disenfranchised a significant part of the adult population–an extension by other means of efforts to subjugate blacks and other ethnic minorities. What Gilliard adds to this analysis is tracing several other pipelines that have resulted in our mass incarceration crisis: crackdown on immigration offenses, decreased funding for mental health, private prisons and detention centers, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Gilliard then examines the church’s witness. He argues that in addition to supporting conservative “law and order” approaches, he contends that the Protestant church’s atonement theory of penal substitution has perpetuated an emphasis on punishment as a sanctifying influence with little or no emphasis on restoration, nor on alternatives to incarceration. Gilliard does not argue that there should be no penalties for crime and acknowledges that incarceration for some is necessary. Rather, he argues that this one-sided focus on retributive punishment is inadequate in terms of a biblical understanding of justice, which he contends is also restorative, both in terms of perpetrators, and in terms of the relationships violated by their acts.

He argues for four responses by the church:

  1. Prevention services to stop incarceration before it starts.
  2. Ministry with people who are currently incarcerated.
  3. Ministries with the families and loved ones of people who are currently incarcerated.
  4. Re-entry services for the formerly incarcerated.

His concluding chapter spotlights outstanding examples of programs addressing these responses.

I had only one reservation about his otherwise compelling argument. I believe he caricatures the idea of penal substitution, which I would contend actually provides a basis in the cross where Father and Son act together, such that love and justice meet in God’s bearing in God’s self the curse for our sins. Yes, there is penalty, and yes, this act effects restoration of a lost humanity. I believe this doctrine, much maligned in contemporary discussion, actually provides the most powerful warrant for the approach to incarceration he advocates. I will admit that it may be possible that the caricature of this doctrine did shape church attitudes toward incarceration, although I would be interested in a closer look at that contention.

In Matthew 25, prisoners are among “the least of these” for whom we are to care. Mass incarceration is one of the ways systemic racism is perpetuated in our country, which not only is a burden upon ethnic minority communities but upon all of us, not only financially but also spiritually. Gilliard commends ministries that are implementing actions to bring “holy interruptions” to mass incarceration. I would commend two in the Central Ohio community where I live (there are numerous others but I have friends involved in these initiatives) Kairos Prison Ministry and CleanTurn Enterprises. Kairos is a national ministry working both with prisoners in prison, and with their families. CleanTurn has demolition and cleaning services, and a cafe’ in the Columbus Hilltop area that provide opportunities for employment and career development for formerly incarcerated individuals.

For many of us, this is an “out of sight, out of mind” problem (I include myself here). Gilliard reminds us that we wouldn’t have much of the Bible apart from the prophetic witness of many who suffered imprisonment. In Acts, in the history of the early church, and in many parts of the world today, vibrant witness and being incarcerated went hand and hand. As we pray for revival in the church, are we aware that this might be one of the implications of our prayers? At very least, Gilliard’s book invites us to “go to prison” one way or another as part of gospel faithfulness.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — N. H. Chaney

N H Chaney

From Ohio Wesleyan in Education, 1910.

All the members of my family are Chaney High School graduates. Both my mother and father graduated from Chaney in 1938, attending the “old” Chaney High School that later became West Jr. High School (which I also attended). My siblings and I graduated from the “new” Chaney on South Hazelwood Avenue. You might say we are a Cowboy family.

I don’t know about my parents, but I never learned the history of the man after whom our high school was named. It turns out that N. H. Chaney was both a local and statewide education leader, presiding over one of the greatest periods of growth of the Youngstown School system, serving as Superintendent from 1902 to 1920.

Novetus Holland Chaney was born in Highland County in southwest Ohio on March 4, 1856. He received Bachelors and Masters degrees from Wilmington College, and completed a Ph.D. at Ohio Wesleyan University in Philosophy and Ethics in 1893. His school leadership career began with four years as a principal in Clarksville, a short stint as superintendent at Blanchester, twelve years as superintendent at Washington Court House and four years in Chillicothe, before coming to Youngstown in 1902.

The Youngstown schools went through a great period of growth in programs, enrollments, and buildings. According to Howard C. Aley, in A Heritage to Share,  “manual training, hygiene, special classes for handicapped children, medical inspection, the school nursing system, kindergartens, domestic arts and science and humane and safety first programs were introduced into the schools” (p. 229).

Enrollments and teachers tripled under his tenure, resulted in cramped facilities requiring new construction. High school enrollment quadrupled and South High School was opened and 20 classrooms added to Washington School, where I attended for elementary school. At his retirement, 20,411 students were enrolled. He initiated construction of Grant Elementary as well as plans for junior high schools, an innovation to relieve crowding in the high schools on the north, south, east, and west sides of town.

He also was a state leader in education serving as President of the Central Ohio Teachers Association and the Ohio State Teachers Association. In 1908, he was appointed a State Board School Examiner, the body that granted teaching certificates in that era. He served a five year term ending in 1913, not untroubled when his own credentials were questioned, and settled when he mailed his own certificate to Columbus.

After retirement in 1920, he went on to run for Clerk of Courts in 1922 and 1924. The one possible taint on an otherwise sterling career may have occurred during this time. According to William D. Jenkins in Steel Valley Klan, “East High was downsized and a high school built on the west side named after N. H Chaney, a former superintendent of schools in Youngstown, and a successful candidate for Clerk of Courts on the Klan ticket in 1924.”

The years of 1923-25 were a dark time in Youngstown history. A Klan Konclave drew over 100,000 to the city in 1923 and in that year a number of Klan endorsed candidates were elected, including four Klan candidates to the school board. There was a strong reaction in this period to the number of southern and eastern Europeans moving into the Valley as well as African Americans. The pressure on office holders to accept an endorsement that represented a significant block of votes was great then as now. From what I can learn, some candidates refused such endorsements. I find no evidence apart from the Jenkins quote that Chaney was a Klan member, or received a Klan endorsement. In the November 5, 1924 Vindicator, giving election results, where other candidates are identified as Klan endorsed, there is only this reference to Chaney:

N H Chaney election results

N. H. Chaney died the next year, in 1925, with a number of the schools he had planned under construction. As mentioned above, the one under construction on the west side, originally West High School, was re-named in honor of Chaney. If William Rayen was the pioneer in Youngstown education history, N. H. Chaney was the education leader who developed a school system to serve Youngstown’s rapidly growing population. And that is how my high school alma mater got its name.

 

Review: The Eye of the World

the eye of the world

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1), Robert Jordan. New York: TOR Books, 1990.

Summary: Following an attack of trollocs and a Myrdraal on Emonds Field, Rand and two friends, joined by several others, flee when they realize that they are the object of the attack, and somehow at the center of a web of destiny that may either thwart or aid the rise of the Dark Power.

Rand and his two friends Mat and Perrin, along with Egwene, the innkeeper’s daughter seem ordinary youth in a remote village, Emonds Field. Egwene is apprenticed to Nynaeve, the Wisdom (a kind of healer) of the village. The greatest excitement comes at Bel Tine, a feast at which Thom Merrilin, a gleeman or storyteller arrives. All this changes when it turns out that a strange, dark figure (Myrdraal) each of the boys sees leads a fist of trollocs to invade the village. Tam, Rand’s father is nearly killed and bequeaths his heron-mark blade sword to Rand. A regal woman, Moiraine heals Tam, and then helps the young men see that they were the object of the attack, and one or all are at the center of a web of destiny in a battle against good and evil. To save Emonds Field from further attack, they must flee and make their way to Tar Valon, where Moiraine is part of an order of Aes Sedai, women who have been trained to channel the One Power to resist the Dark Power as well as to “gentle” men who cannot wield the power without becoming insane.

This results in a desperate flight by the boys and Egwene, Thom, Moiraine, and her warder Lanb, pursued physically and even in dreams by the powers of evil. Nynaeve, concerned for her villagers, tracks them and joins the company. Mat is compromised and nearly lost when he steals a dagger from a hoard in an abandoned city. The party is separated, and except for Thom eventually make it to Caemlyn, where they are reunited. Thom, who was with Mat and Rand, sacrifices himself so they can escape, although there is a question of whether he really died. It is here that Moiraine understands the true threat of evil to the Eye of the World, a pool thus far untouched by evil, and Rand understands that he is at “the heart of it all” a ta’veren or a person around which the Wheel of Time weaves surrounding life threads, forming a Web of Destiny. The company, joined by Loial, an Ogier, pursue desperate ways through the Blight to confront evil, and for Rand, to confront his destiny.

Jordan’s work has been likened to The Lord of the Rings. Except in sheer length of the fourteen volume series, I do not think he surpasses him, and there are elements that are at least parallel to, if not derivative of, Tolkien–a remote people, ordinary figures caught up in a great conflict, a company, dark riders, a desperate flight and quest against the rising of a Dark Power who threatens the world.

That said, Jordan has also created a richly textured world with a history, a unique vision of time, and a seemingly different way of thinking about power that seems more eastern than western. Light and dark seem two sides of the same coin. It turns out that only women who have been trained can wield the One Power as a force of Light. Men are turned insane by it or to instruments of the Dark Power, something that will become an issue for Rand. Time symbolized by the Wheel with an intertwined snake swallowing its own tail brings past, present and future together and weaves a fate for individuals. Instead of “God works in mysterious ways” it is “The wheel weaves as the wheel wills,” which is repeated near to the point of becoming tedious. As in real life, forces of good often are at cross purposes–different orders of Aes Sedai, the Children of Light, and the various kingdoms, all at some point becoming threats to the quest as much as the Dark Power.

Jordan creates strong female characters. Aes Sedai Moraine leads the party and wields great power. Nynaeve the Wisdom and even Egwene have their own power, Moiraine seeing them as Aes Sedai in training. Caemlyn is ruled by a strong queen, Morgase, to be succeeded one day by her daughter Elayne. I can’t think of an evil female character in this volume. Not so with the men, such as Padan Fain, the evil peddler and Dark Friend. Yet there are both strong and delightful male characters from some of the innkeepers to Thom, the gleeman, who lays down his life and most of all Lan, the warder, descended from kings (one thinks often of Aragorn).

So the question is, will I go on? I can say that I will not be binge-reading the series. Yet the writing held my attention, and I find myself caring about what will happen to Rand and the others. I wonder if the Dark Power will be defeated and I’m curious why it takes fourteen books. It is clear that Jordan’s plots take many twists and turns, only some of which resolved in this book. I wonder how patient I would be with this over such an extended series.

Some friends have told me that the middle books do seem to get bogged down at times. I’d be curious what others think. Was it a slog, or did you not want it to end? Did you read straight through or read another volume periodically? Did you finish the series or give up? As you can tell, I haven’t made up my mind. This was a great summer read. Maybe that’s what I’ll do, except that this would take until 2031. Wheel of Time fans, I need some encouragement here…

There’s An App for That!

Have you ever tried to set up a book group? There is the whole process of choosing a book, setting up a meeting time, sharing comments about the books you are reading. Endless chains of email later, you ask, are we having fun yet? Like so many other things, there are apps for that which make your life easier.

BookRiot just ran an article on five apps that are out there to help manage book clubs. It turns out that two are collaborative tools used more widely in many work groups, Slack and Flockwhich have many of the meeting tools and communication tools you need to set up a book club and manage it: polls, scheduling, chat, and file sharingIf you already use one of these tools for work, you might consider adapting it to organizing bookclubs. If not, the other three apps are dedicated bookclub apps.

Only one of these is currently a mobile app, Book Club by Book Movement. Bad news for Android users. It is currently only available as an iPhone app. It appears to be an elegant little app. In addition to functions allowing you to organize, choose books, set meetings, RSVPs, and even buy books, it has a “Discover” function that allows you to enter an adjective which will pull up titles related to it and a “Top Club Picks” to see what other clubs are reading. For books you are buying, it tracks prices and allows you to buy when there are deals. The poll allows for anonymous voting connected to cover images of the book. The app is free.

Bookclubz and Our Own Book Club (OOB) are both web-based apps. Of the two, Bookclubz seemed far more straightforward in creating clubs, communicating, scheduling, polling and tracking the books you’ve read. It also shows the most popular book club books and offers a featured book of the month, along with a discussion guide.

All the apps are free. Only Bookclubz identifies its affiliate partnership with Amazon as a funding source, but I suspect something similar is true of the others as well. They also have an option for clubs to make a donation. I appreciate this transparency even if I’m not an Amazon fan.

So, if you are in a book club that finds the admin a hassle, or are forming one, one of these apps may make your life easier. Personally, I really liked Bookclubz, although I wish they had an Android app.

 

Five Years Later…

Stats ‹ Bob on Books — WordPress com

I received this little recognition from WordPress, where my blogs are hosted, on Sunday. A day after I registered, I wrote my first post, Writing on Reading, and took the plunge into the world of blogging. That was on August 13, 2013.

It has been, on the whole, a delightful journey. What has made it so special are the interactions with so many who follow the blog, either on WordPress, or via social media. Many of those interactions are online, and often, I feel I am learning as much as I’m sharing. Perhaps some of the most delightful interactions, though, are with people I would call “anonymous followers” who I run into at a conference or other gathering and tell me how much they appreciated a particular post, or the blog more generally. It reminds me that there is a world of readers out there beyond the comments and the likes and the stats.

But if you like stats, here are a few. Currently 1099 people follow the blog. Actually, a month ago this number was more like 3300, but included all my Facebook friends on my personal profile as well as my WordPress followers. Facebook changed their policy recently and would only count and allow posting to those on your Facebook Page. Actually, that’s OK, because the current number is a more honest reflection of those really interested. Over the past five years, I’ve written 1630 posts and, as of writing had 301,787 visitors and 439,774 views on the blog. That’s an average of 240 views a day over five years–which in blogging circles is modest success.  The all-time top post was Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10 (from 2015) that has had 19,966 views to date. Nearly since the beginning, I’ve posted six days a week, taking Sundays off, with a couple of breaks, one for a conference I was directing, another for emergency foot surgery.

Somewhere over the past five years, I went from posting book reviews to becoming a reviewer. The transition was one of simply reviewing whatever I read to developing relationships with various publishers to review newly published books, either in print or e-galley form, sometimes before the books were published. I’ve learned the value of becoming a reliable reviewer, producing clear content related to a book in a timely fashion. The payoff is the chance to review more of that publisher’s books. Sometimes I’ve had the chance to interact with authors as well. I love it when an author reads a review, and whatever I thought of the book, says, “you understood what I was trying to say.” It is gratifying when I learn that I’ve been able to connect an author whose work I deeply appreciate with a reader who will find the work amusing, informative, or even, on occasion, transformative.

Booksellers are another group of my heroes. In the age of online sales, I so appreciate the work of those who curate a selection of books in a way that is responsive to their customers, work hard to build a customer base, host book events, and attempt to pay the bills every month. I appreciate those who have taken the time to let me into their world, even a little.

I mentioned a Youngstown post earlier. This was something I think I fell into by accident. It began with a post where I talked about one of these conversation exercises used at conferences. The question was, “what is something I probably don’t know about you that you should ask me about?” My answer was “what it was like growing up in working class Youngstown.” I wrote a post about that and someone said I should write some more about that. Early on, I wrote a post about food, which exploded when I posted it in some Youngstown Facebook groups. For the past four years I’ve been learning about everything from ethnic foods to city founders, reading more than a few Youngstown books, writing about it, and then learning a ton more from the comments of others. I’ve discovered that to know who you are, you need to know where you’ve come from.

Downsides? There is the struggle of every writer to figure out what you want to say and then making the words on the screen reflect the ideas in your head. Mercifully, I’ve had few “trolls”–perhaps I’m not that interesting. I’ve learned that your website can be wrongly blacklisted, and it can take months to undo. It happens often enough that there are businesses who deal with this stuff. Add this to all the ways people try to defraud you online and offline….

To end on a positive note, I have to give a shout out to the folks at WordPress, who have designed software that is easy to work with and gets you online quickly. Beyond that, I’ve found their support people among the very best to work with whenever I’ve had a question or problem. Most of the time, it all just works so seamlessly that you forget all the people working behind the scenes that make it work. After five years, though, it seems appropriate to say thanks to the folks at WordPress that help my voice be heard, my reviews seen, and all those great Youngstown conversations to happen. Thank you, WordPress!

Review: Born to Wander

Born to Wander

Born to WanderMichelle Van Loon. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018.

Summary: An exploration of the theme of our pilgrim identity as followers of Christ, and how this makes sense of the seasons of transition and loss, and struggles for control in our lives.

It seems we spend our lives searching and longing for home. We move, we change jobs, churches, and sometimes, relationships. We experience transition and loss. Sometimes the restlessness is an inner one–a longing for God knows what. Michelle Van Loon, a writer who has know seasons of transition, dislocation, and loss in her own life, suggests that instead of efforts to control our lives and settle, these longings point us as Christians to our identity as members of a pilgrim people longing, and wandering toward our true home.

In this book, Van Loon explores three kinds of pilgrimage:

  • Moral pilgrimage focuses on every day obedience to God.
  • Physical pilgrimage emphasizes a bodily journey to a holy site in order to seek God.
  • Interior pilgrimage describes the pursuit of communion with God through prayer, solitude, and contemplation.  (p. 14)

In the eleven chapters that follow this introduction Van Loon explores this idea of pilgrimage through a combination of biblical reflection, personal narrative, and formative insights. Uprootedness is explored through the life of Noah, sentness through Abraham, being waylaid on the journey through Israel’s Egyptian years and displacement through Israel’s wilderness wanderings and grumblings. The warnings Israel is given as they cross Jordan remind us of the two ways we might choose, and the hope of restoration, even when we choose wrongly.

Van Loon speaks tellingly of the subtle ways idolatries divide us from God and others. She observes:

“…I’d like to suggest that most of us have a personalized collection of housebroken idols vying for our love every single day.”

She especially singles out our idolatry of nuclear families, and how difficult this idolatry is for those who are single.

She speaks of the importance of remembering, here as elsewhere using word studies to explore several passages (Josiah’s kingship, Lamentations, Psalm 137) to consider how remembering leads us into pilgrimage. In “Trekked” she explores the value of physical pilgrimages, particularly to “thin” places where we might experience the sacred. “Sojourned” considers the journey of the disciples following Christ. She warns of how reaction to preserve ourselves in a decadent culture might divert us from the pilgrim life:

“A desire for self-preservation is a reaction against a decaying culture. A reaction is not a calling–and it is not an option for a pilgrim. We walk toward God not in reaction, but in response to His invitation to follow, no matter where He leads.”

She concludes in her chapter “Revealed” with the use of the word “Come” –the invitation to follow but also the revelation that the bridegroom is coming for his bride, that becomes the pilgrim’s cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Pilgrimage is not hopeless wandering, but a journey toward the day when we will truly be welcomed home,

What I most appreciated about this work is that it reflects a second half of life spirituality–a spirituality that moves beyond the first flush of life in Christ, new jobs, homes, and marriages. It is a spirituality for those who have lived long enough to get beaten up by life at times and who are wondering how to live when the old answers don’t work as well anymore. Where do we go when we experience disillusionment, when the rising career trajectory crashes and burns, when the group we felt so close with scatters? Van Loon’s openness about her own experiences invites us to explore how these disrupting and displacing experiences may be God’s way of calling us into a deeper journey with him, one that involves leaving the homes of self-protection and control for the uncertainty of trusting to God’s protection and leading on pilgrimage.

The book is designed for personal reflection with questions and writing space at the end of each chapter and a prayer that expresses back to God and personalizes the themes of the chapter. There are so many places where we face the choice of clinging to the safe and familiar, even as circumstances may be wresting these from our arms; or choosing to step into the unknown of a pilgrim journey. This book make a good companion for those considering embarking on that journey.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books

Best Bible Books: New Testament ResourcesJohn Glynn, edited by Michael H. Burer with contributions by Michael H. Burer, Darrell L. Bock, Joseph D. Fantin, and J. William Johnston. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2018.

Summary: A review of commentaries, dictionaries, and other scholarly resources related to the New Testament, singling out those the contributors deem of greatest value.

Theological students, pastors, and anyone serious about Bible study face a dilemma. There is a surfeit of resources in English and for most, limits to their budgets. What are the best resources to purchase to have a useful library at hand for study, preaching and teaching and academic scholarship?

John Glynn, a freelance academic writer, edited ten editions of Commentary and Reference Series before his death in 2007. This new 11th edition carries on much of the tradition he established while expanding it by separating New Testament resources from Old Testament and theological resources (forthcoming).

The work begins with the editor’s recommendations for building a Personal Reference Library, a valuable starting list for anyone building their library. This is followed by a chapter on commentaries series. Favored are the Word Biblical Commentary and the New International Greek Testament Commentary, the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, and the Pillar New Testament Commentaries. For preaching and application, the New International Version Application Commentary was not commended here, but most volumes in the series were commended in the reviews. The Bible Speaks Today series was also commended for expositional works.

There are then sections listing recommendations of New Testament Introduction, Survey, and Theology books, and books on Jesus and the Gospels. These are in standard bibliography comment, some including very brief comments. Commended works are highlighted by shading.

The bulk of this work is reviews of commentaries, by books of the Bible. Each review includes comments on the approach of the commentary–types of critical approaches, emphases, format–how the material is organized, and usability–including who the commentary might be most useful for. Commentaries are rated by Good, Better, and Best. Commentaries are included from a variety of theological positions–evangelical (the most), more liberal Protestant, denomination (particularly Lutheran and Anabaptist), and Catholic (Sacra Pagina). While the “Best” ratings tend to go to well-executed works by evangelicals, a number of the Anchor Bible (or Anchor Yale Bible, which has succeeded it, some Sacra Pagina, and Hermeneia work also receive these ratings. Commentaries are organized by “Technical/Semitechnical” and “Exposition” categories.

Following the commentaries are further bibliography lists by categories and subcategories. These follow the format of the bibliographies at the beginning of the book, highlighting commended works, with a sprinkling of brief comments about selected works. The categories are:

  • Scholarly One Volume Commentaries
  • New Testament Background
  • Popular References
  • General References
  • New Testament Greek Resources
  • Exegesis, Interpretation, and Hermeneutics

The work concludes with a listing of “the Ultimate New Testament Commentary Collection” selecting one from the Technical/Semitechnical category and one from the Exposition category. In this list, the Baker Exegetical Commentary New Testament and the New International Version Application Commentaries were the most often commended.

Of course, those familiar with the commentaries may not always agree. I was pleased to see commentaries by Linda Belleville and G. Walter Hansen receive “best” ratings as did several of Ben Witherington’s rhetorical commentaries (these scholars are personal friends), as well as much of the work of Colin Kruse, Craig Keener and Craig Blomberg, as well as classics by C. E. B. Cranfield (Mark), C.K. Barrett (Acts) and others. It did seem on the whole that rhetorical critical approaches did not rate as highly. More liberal or Catholic works of exceptional merit were singled out, but these seemed fewer than the evangelical works. Likewise, recent scholarship is favored, but some classic works do receive “bests.” There is a dearth of commentaries or other scholarly works from English speakers in the two-thirds world, or African Americans and Latinx Americans,  and women are still significantly in the minority though represented.

This work is valuable especially for the student or young pastor acquiring a theological library. I was also impressed with how many works I acquired twenty to thirty years have been revised or replaced, and some series, like the Baker and Zondervan series weren’t even around (as well as the new Evangelical Exegetical Commentaries published through Faithlife/Logos). If you acquired many of your books more than ten years ago, and intend to continue to be active in ministry, you might find this a helpful tool. This would also be a helpful source when one begins to preach on a New Testament book, or as a source for a beginning bibliography on some New Testament question. It might even suggest a way to organize your library!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown –Dr. John R. White

John White

Dr. John R. White

I first encounter Dr. John R. White in an Introduction to Anthropology class at Youngstown State, probably in 1975. He was a large presence, physically, as well as in terms of charisma. When I knew him, he had a big bushy beard and hair, not unlike the picture here. He was one of the most riveting lecturers at Youngstown and one of the reasons I minored in Anthropology, despite the fact that I think I earned no better than a “B” in any of his classes while earning “A’s” in most of the others.

As I’ve mentioned in some posts, I arrived at college fresh out of the Jesus movement as a committed believer (still am, but hopefully more thoughtful and mature about that). Perhaps having studied various cultures and seen religion at its worst as well as best, he didn’t share my commitments. We talked, we disagreed (usually after class) but he always said what he thought, allowing me to do likewise. I learned a great deal along the way, that has shaped me to this day. His course on Native Americans, who he studied extensively, opened my eyes both to the beauty in their culture, and the horrendous ways we violated treaties and stole land from those who were here before us. He helped open my eyes to ways we had not lived up to our proclaimed ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” And I discovered that we can learn from people very different from us, even those with whom we have disagreements.

And then I graduated. And I have to say I did not follow Dr. White’s career until I began writing about Youngstown. I discovered that he had a large presence in the city, even when he had the opportunity to leave for more prestigious academic opportunities. He published over one hundred academic articles and books. He won Distinguished Professor awards in 1979, 1981, 1985, and 2005, and numerous other awards. He served as the department chair of Anthropology and Sociology from 1995 until 2005, when he became an emeritus professor.

His name comes up in connection with a number of the historic sites around Youngstown, including the Hopewell Furnace along Yellow Creek, the Mill Creek Furnace in Mill Creek Park, and the Mercer Furnace. He organized a group of students to try to identify the original site of the William Holmes McGuffey home in Coitsville. He was involved in excavations at Lanterman’s Mill, the Austin Log House, and Hubbard House. He even led the excavation and restoration of the Old Stone Bridge at Youngstown State in 2005.

He was a stage presence in productions both at Youngstown State and the Youngstown Playhouse.His credits included Guys and Dolls, Three Penny Opera, The Grapes of Wrath, and Lysistrata. Perhaps one of his most remembered roles was as John Brown in a production at Harpers Ferry, where the real John Brown attempted to seize the U.S. Arsenal. My suspicion is that if it had been Dr. White, he might have succeeded!

He came up when I was writing about the Fresh Air Camp, which he served as co-director for four years. The kids loved “Big John” and he had a lifelong impact on many of them. He wrote a book for children, Hands On Archaeologystill in print, and loved sharing his love for a good “dig” with children of all ages.

I was saddened to learn that I’d missed my chance to see my old professor. John R. White passed away on August 22, 2009, at the age of 72 from complications of Parkinson’s disease. He had been involved in the ongoing dig at the Mercer blast furnace, and had planned to dig there on the Saturday he passed away.

If I were to see him, I would thank him for opening my eyes to how other cultures are just different, and embody unique qualities of beauty. I would thank him for teaching me how I could learn from someone with whom I differed and for modelling the passionate pursuit of what he cared about. And I would thank him for staying in Youngstown when so many of us left. While my writing may help us remember the rich heritage of our home town, he helped us literally discover it, particularly the iron-making history at our city’s roots.

Thank you, Dr. White.

Sources: John White Obituary

YSU Professor Loved YSU Until His Death,” The Vindicator, August 25, 2009

 

Why I Don’t Use Amazon Links in Reviews

Edit Post ‹ Bob on Books — WordPress com

Screenshot of editing page for my most recent review, showing weblink to publisher.

If you’ve clicked on a book title in one of my reviews, you will discover that in nearly all cases, it will take you to a publisher’s web page for the book. Some may wonder, why don’t I use an Amazon link?

I did at one time until a bookseller friend whose work I value greatly challenged me that I was helping to dig the grave of his business. Since I want to see him, and other brick and mortar booksellers stay in business, I paid attention. He pointed out that I was essentially endorsing Amazon as “my bookseller of choice” by directing traffic to their website.

I hadn’t thought about that. Amazon links to books almost always come up at the top of a search for a book, even when you enter a publisher name. I was using those links as a matter of convenience. It is more challenging to find publisher links to a book, particularly for backlist books. And there are books I review sometimes that are out of print. In this case, I use a link to ABE Books, which provides connections to a number of booksellers who have the book.

So here are the reasons I don’t link to Amazon:

  • Do you want one bookseller “to rule them all and in the darkness bind them?”
  • I want to leave the choice of where you buy your books, and the format in which you buy them, to you.
  • I want to support publishers, who often sell the books online, adding to their revenues at a time where they face great pressure.
  • Publishers often have helpful marketing information about their books–video trailers, readers guides, author information, and more.
  • I want to support local booksellers whose presence enriches our community. Most also have an online presence, allowing you to order books and have them shipped to you, or available to pick up at the store.
  • Some of you may want to get it at your local library. I don’t want Amazon to replace libraries, which provide so many services, particularly for those who are financially strapped.

Finally, because I write about books and bookselling, I do not want to have a financial relationship with Amazon as an Amazon Associate. Yes, I actually could make some pocket change if someone uses a link on my page to buy a book from Amazon. But I don’t want to for all the reasons above.

I’ve concluded that for all the convenience Amazon offers, we are sacrificing a rich, local culture, as well as the subtler delights of relationships with librarians, publishers, and booksellers, as well as the serendipitous delight of finding what you weren’t, as well as were, looking for on the shelves of a local book store. That is not something I want to lose.